Bad idea: Inviting Putin to D-Day commemoration

Bad idea: Inviting Putin to D-Day commemoration

It was never a good idea to invite Vladimir Putin to join the 70th-anniversary commemoration of the D-Day landings on June 6. But the justification now offered by the French government makes the original mistake a great deal worse.

As Putin prepares for the Normandy ceremonies, his hirelings are attempting to provoke violence and disrupt elections in Ukraine. Putin justifies his government’s actions against Ukraine as necessary to resist Ukrainian “fascists.”

This represents an audacious inversion of reality. In free presidential elections on May 25, about 2 percent of Ukrainians cast their ballots for the ultra-nationalist parties Svoboda and Pravy Sektor. In elections that same day to the European Union parliament, France’s xenophobic and anti-Semitic National Front collected25 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, Putin himself has emerged as the chief paymaster and inspiration for Europe’s far-right parties.

In Putin’s distorted version of reality, those Ukrainians who demonstrated for a liberal, democratic, and European-oriented future are vilified as neo-Nazis. The Russian-backed thugs and goons who violently attack them are saluted as the heirs to the anti-Nazi resistance. …

This inversion may be audacious, but it is not new. For almost half a century after 1945, Soviet leaders vilified any and all resistance to their rule over Eastern Europe as fascist by definition. Social democrats, Catholics, peasant populists, and monarchist conservatives: fascists all. …

In 1994, French President François Mitterrand—himself a former collaborationist—declined to invite Germany’s Helmut Kohl to the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings. The excuse was that the day belonged only to the victorious Allies. (The true motive seems to have been to remind newly reunified Germany to mind its Ps and Qs.) Since then, a more charitable spirit has prevailed. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder joined French President Jacques Chirac to commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-Day. In explaining the invitation and his decision to accept, Schroeder wrote that on D-Day, “France was liberated from German occupation and we Germans from the Nazi tyranny. This day is much more than victory or defeat. It has become a symbol of the struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights. It is only right that we Germans take part.” That decision seems just and generous today. And it explains why all the states of democratic Europe deserve an invitation to share the memory of the day—and why Vladimir Putin doesn’t.

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